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By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury Post
Cruising the aisles of a Blockbuster Video one day, Piedmont Players Theatre director Reid Leonard realized that the walls were packed with horror and suspense videos ó a reflection of the kind of entertainment people locally sought out.
He also remembered a professor in a directing class telling students that if they ever wanted to do a show that “really works,” they should do “The Innocents,” a play by William Archibald that is based on a story by Henry James.
Both these bits of information factored in to Leonard’s selection of “The Innocents” as part of this year’s slate of PPT productions.
The play is set in late 19th-century England and features two orphaned children, Flora (Hillary Bendert) and Miles (Ryan Fanant).
In the care of a neglectful uncle, they have been raised by a pair of servants, Miss Jessup (Theresa Laib) and Peter Quint (Jonathan Furr), recently dead.
A young governess named Miss Giddens (Nora El-Khouri) arrives and begins to believe that the house and grounds are haunted. Ghostly presences and the strange behavior of Flora and Miles lead her to wonder about the former servants.
Leonard points out that El-Khouri has a history of playing opposite troubled kids ó most notably as Helen Keller’s teacher Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker.”
The Meroney stage has been transformed to a turn-of the-century English country house, and audience members can expect Gothic effects such as flickering candles to create an atmosphere of suspense and fear. The challenge, Leonard says, is to establish the right mood and then “crank it and crank it.”
Even the author of the original novel, Henry James, was frightened by the story, which was inspired by a story told him by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As he was correcting the proofs of the story, which appeared in serialized form in 1898, he told a friend that when he had finished he was so frightened he had to go upstairs to bed.
The short novel ó which James often described as a pot-boiler n is one of the classic psychological horror stories in English literature.
Pauline Kael called the 1961 movie version starring Deborah Kerr the best ghost movie she’d ever seen.
Audience members will be left wondering throughout the play. What is Miss Giddens really seeing? Is she crazy? What is real and what isn’t? What actually happened before she got there?
“The psychology of Miss Gidden’s character is what really makes this play,” Leonard says.
“The Innocents” will be performed at the Meroney Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24-26 and Jan. 30-Feb. 2. There will be a matinee performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27.
The box office opens to the public at 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 21.
Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for students and senior citizens. Wednesday value night price is $9 for everyone.
Producing Partners for “The Innocents” are  KKA Architecture, Brent Parks CPA, P.A. and Wachovia Bank.
For more information, call 704-633-5471. The Meroney Theatre is located at 213 S. Main Street in Salisbury.
Contact Katie Scarvey at kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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